(SOMA)TIC POETRY RITUALS
Madison Square Park Oval Lawn
Twenty-Fourth St. between Madison & Fifth Aves.
Through July 23, free, 12 noon – 5:00 pm (workshops nightly at 6:00)
“Every single human being is creative. When we commit ourselves to nurturing our artistic capacities we improve our ability to more deeply discern the world around us and make the constructive decisions needed in order to thrive in this world,” fifty-one-year-old poet CAConrad writes in his (Soma)tic Manifesto. Through July 23, Conrad will be performing “(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals” in Madison Square Park, under one of American artist and MacArthur Fellow Josiah McElheny’s three sculptures that comprise “Prismatic Park,” a collaborative public art project that is hosting free dance, music, and poetry through October 8, sponsored by Danspace Project, Blank Forms, and Poets House. Born in Kansas and raised in Pennsylvania, Conrad is the author of such books as The City Real & Imagined, ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, and the upcoming While Standing in Line for Death. In 1998, Conrad’s boyfriend, AIDS activist Earth (Mark Holmes), was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered in Tennessee at the age of thirty-six. In order to break out of his subsequent depression and his inability to break away from a factorylike existence that had been with him since childhood when his family ran a casket company, Conrad developed rituals that helped respark his creative energy and his life in general. He is currently in the midst of a six-day residency in Madison Square Park, sitting (in the shade) at a small table under McElheny’s open red vaulted-roof pavilion (with red and yellow glass), where the public is invited to join him for approximately twenty minutes as Conrad develops a personalized (Soma)tic poetry ritual for each individual participant, involving crystals, liquids, and writing. The rituals are meant to help anyone seeking new ways to cope with today’s world; they are not limited to writers. The personalized rituals — bring pen and paper to take copious notes — are first come, first served, from 12 noon to 5:00, followed by workshops from 6:00 to 8:00; on July 22, Conrad delves into crystal trees, while on July 23 he will read tarot cards. “Prismatic Park,” which also features a blue sound wall and a reflective green dance floor, continues with concerts by Joe McPhee & Graham Lambkin (July 25-30), Shelley Hirsch (August 22-27), Matana Roberts (September 5-10), and Limpe Fuchs with poet Patrick Rosal (October 3-8), dance by Netta Yerushalmy (August 1-6) and Jodi Melnick (September 12-17, 19-24), and poetry by Joshua Bennett (August 15-20), Donna Masini (August 29 – September 3), and Mónica de la Torre (September 26 – October 1).
The South Street Seaport Museum and Kinesis Project dance theatre have teamed up to present Secrets and Seawalls, a site-specific performance taking place on board the 1885 full-rigged cargo ship Wavertree. Inspired by such devastating storms as Hurricane Sandy, Kinesis Project artistic director Melissa Riker and architect Lee H. Skolnick explore notions of power and vulnerability, particularly in regard to the weather and New York City’s seawalls, in the piece, which was previously performed in 2015 on the beach at Fort Tilden in Gateway National Park in the Rockaways, an area that was severely hit by Sandy. Divided into two acts, the immersive work features dancers Cassandra Cotta, Zachary Denison, Michelle Amara Micca, and Zoe Allocco, with costumes by Asa Thornton and live music by Katie Down, Helen Yee, and Michael Evans. VIP tickets include a tour of the Wavertree, which was built in Southampton, Great Britain, became part of the museum’s Street of Ships in 1968, and was restored in 2015-16, in addition to a postshow meet-and-greet with the performers. Riker has noted that Secrets and Seawalls was also influenced by Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone,” which says, “I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection, / never be blind or too old / to uphold your weighty wavering reflection. I want to unfold.”
Rubin Museum of Art
West 17th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Sunday, July 16, free (including free museum admission all day), 1:00 - 4:00
The Rubin Museum plans to make some noise at its annual block party, taking place July 16 from 1:00 to 4:00 on West Seventeenth St. This year’s fête is inspired by the new exhibition “The World Is Sound,” which explores the impact of sound in Tibetan Buddhism in the creation / death / rebirth cycle, with ritual music, immersive installations, and the largest “Om” ever, recorded by visitors to the Om Lab. The block party will have spaces for meditation, hands-on art activities for adults and children, a silent disco with Nepali pop curated by Dorjee Dolma, Himalayan snacks, bubble painting, the Wheel of Sounds and the Wheel of Feelings, and live performances by the New York Suwa Taiko Association, the Blue Angels Drumline, poets John Giorno and Tenzin Dickyi, MSHR (Birch Cooper and Brenna Murphy), and Dana Flynn of Laughing Lotus Yoga in addition to a Kirtan concert with the Bhakti Center. Partyers can also stop by “Drawing Sound,” a live painting and sound collaboration curated and hosted by Rhiannon Catalyst, and check out presentations by ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood (music selections), Adhikaar (oral histories), Grassroots Movement in Nepal (Nepali children’s songs), India Home (Garba dance), Tibetan Community of NY/NJ (musical instruments demos), and the United Sherpa Association (translating English names into Tibetan). As a bonus, the museum will be open for free all day long (11:00 am - 6:00 pm), so you can experience such exhibits as “Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame,” “Masterworks of Himalayan Art,” and “Sacred Spaces” asw well as “The World Is Sound.”
“Okwui’s job is to scare people, just to scare them to get them to kind of wake up,” dancer, choreographer, and conceptualist Ralph Lemon says of his frequent collaborator and protégée Okwui Okpokwasili in the powerful new documentary Bronx Gothic. Directed by Okpokwasili’s longtime friend Andrew Rossi, the film follows Okpokwasili during the last three months of her tour for her semiautobiographical one-woman show, Bronx Gothic, a fierce, confrontational, yet heart-wrenching production that hits audiences right in the gut. Rossi cuts between scenes from the show — he attached an extra microphone to Okpokwasili’s body to create a stronger, more immediate effect on film — to Parkchester native Okpokwasili giving backstage insight, visiting her Nigerian-born, Bronx-based parents, and spending time with her husband, Peter Born, who directed and designed the show, and their young daughter, Umechi. The performance itself begins with Okpokwasili already moving at the rear of the stage, shaking and vibrating relentlessly, facing away from people as they filter in and take their seats. She continues those unnerving movements for nearly a half hour (onstage but not in the film) before finally turning around and approaching a mic stand, where she portrays a pair of eleven-year-old girls exchanging deeply personal notes, talking about dreams, sexuality, violence, and abuse as they seek their own identity. “Bronx Gothic is about two girls sharing secrets. . . . It is about the adolescent body going into a new body, inhabiting the body of a brown girl in a world that privileges whiteness,” Okpokwasili, whose other works include Poor People’s TV Room and the Bessie-winning Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance, explains in the film. National Medal of Arts recipient Lemon adds, “It’s about racism, gender politics — it’s not just about these two little black girls in the Bronx.” Rossi includes clips of Okpokwasili performing at MoMA in Lemon’s “On Line” in 2011, developing Bronx Gothic at residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center and New York Live Arts, and participating in talkbacks at Alverno College in Milwaukee and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, where the tour concluded, right next to her childhood church, which brings memories surging back to her.
Rossi is keenly aware of the potentially controversial territory he has entered. “As a white man, I was conscious of the complexity and implications of embarking on a project that revolves around the experience of African American females,” he points out in his director’s statement. “But fundamentally, I believe in an artist’s creative ability to explore topics that are foreign to the artist’s own background. I think this takes on even more resonance when the work itself has an explicit objective to ‘grow our empathic capacity,’ as Okwui says of Bronx Gothic, [seeking] an audience that is composed of ‘black women, black men, Asian women, Asian men, white women, white men, Latina women, Latina men….’” Cinematographers Bryan Sarkinen and Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times, The First Monday in May) can’t get enough of Okpokwasili’s mesmerizing face, which commands attention, whether she’s smiling, singing, or crying, as well as her body, which is drenched with sweat in the show. “We have been acculturated to watching brown bodies in pain. I’m asking you to see the brown body. I’m going to be falling, hitting a hardwood floor, and hopefully there is a flood of feeling for a brown body in pain,” Okpokwasili says. Meanwhile, shots of the audience reveal some individuals aghast, some hypnotized, and others looking away. Editor Andrew Coffman and coeditors Thomas Rivera Montes and Rossi shift from Okpokwasili performing to just being herself, but the film has occasional bumpy transitions; also, Okpokwasili, who wrote the show when she was pregnant, does the vast majority of the talking, echoing her one-woman show but also at times bordering on becoming self-indulgent. (Okpokwasili produced the film with Rossi, while Born serves as one of the executive producers.) But the documentary is a fine introduction to this unique and fearless creative force and a fascinating examination of the development of a timely, brave work. Bronx Gothic opens July 12 at Film Forum, with Okpokwasili and Rossi taking part in Q&As at the 7:00 screenings on July 12, 14, and 15.
Hunters Point Park, Gantry Plaza State Park, Queensbridge Park, Socrates Sculpture Park
July 8-9, free, 12 noon - 7:00
If free, outdoor, site-specific dance is your thing — and really, if it’s not, it should be — then you need to check out INSITU, taking place July 8-9 in four parks along the Long Island City waterfront. Each day, from 12 noon to 7:00, multiple dance companies will perform several times in various sections of the parks; the schedule has been arranged so it’s possible to catch every company in a single day (with the help of guides). Produced by KINEMATIK Dance Theater in community partnership with Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, Chocolate Factory Theater, Socrates Sculpture Park, and LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, INSITU features an impressive, wide-ranging lineup (with the name of the piece they will be performing in parentheses): Hivewild (Raft), Kimberly Tate + Akim Funk Buddha (DANCITECTURE), BS Movement (Peur), Movement of the People Dance Company (Word Is Audubon), the Equus Projects/OnSite NYC (Mandala Insitu), and Christopher Unpezverde Núñez (The Sun Sets Twice on the Same Day) in Hunter’s Point South Park; Zullo/RawMovement (Our Garden / How Exquisite Eternity / The Piers), Kate Moore and Brendan Duggan (The Goodbye Party), Melissa Riker / Kinesis Project dance theatre (Timepiece, or: Another Imperfect Measurement of Us), Carte Blanche Performance/Shandoah Goldman (Hoist + Sulk), Jody Oberfelder Projects (Audience of One), Loni Landon Dance Project (Waterfront), and Grounded View (Bench Talk) in Gantry Plaza State Park; PROJECT 44 (Fragile), Community Workshop and Performance Group, KrisSeto and ShoeySun [VESSELS] (10,500 Departures), Parcon NYC (Beyond Playing Chicken), KINEMATIK Dance Theater (From the Inside Out), and Lucy Kerr (Sleep Piece) in Queensbridge Park; and Dance Entropy/Valerie Green (Immeasurable), Wilder Project (Seed), Only Child Aerial Theatre (Framework), the Blue Bus Project and Tyler Gilstrap (The Great Dictator), tedted Performance Group (Cycles), and violetsound (Terroir) in Socrates Sculpture Park. There will also be a cash-bar after-party on July 9 at 7:00 at Anable Basin Sailing at 4-40 44th Dr.
JODY OBERFELDER PROJECTS: THE BRAIN PIECE
New York Live Arts
219 West 19th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Wednesday, June 28, gala benefit $200, 7:30
June 29 - July 1, $25-$35, 7:00 & 9:00
New York-based director, choreographer, dancer, and filmmaker Jody Oberfelder’s The Brain Piece, premiering at New York Live Arts June 28 – July 1, continues her exploration of our internal organs, following on her extraordinary 2013 piece, 4Chambers, an immersive, multimedia, interactive journey inside the human heart. Performed by Oberfelder, Mary Madsen, Pierre Guilbault, and Hannah Wendel along with ten dancer docents, The Brain Piece is divided into two parts, “Mind Matters / Head Space” and “World of Brain,” combining film, visual art, installation, dance, music, and text for an audience limited to 72 members. The cerebral, multimedia piece includes her award-winning short film Dance of the Neurons, made with Eric Siegel, which turns firing synapses into a colorful, joyous dance. Oberfelder, a travel and yoga enthusiast and former lead singer of the punk band the Bagdads, founded Jody Oberfelder Projects in 1989 and has previously presented such works as The Titles Comes Last, Moved, Re:Dress, and Throb. The charming, gregarious, always energetic creator took a break from rehearsals to tell twi-ny all about The Brain Piece.
twi-ny: We recently bumped into each other at the Whitney Biennial, where you were serving as a docent for Asad Raza’s “Root sequence. Mother tongue,” an installation of living trees paired with specific objects, one of which you contributed. As museumgoers made their way through the exhibit, I couldn’t help but think of it as a kind of improvisatory dance with nature, especially with you there. What was that experience like?
jody oberfelder: We’re actually called caregivers. The people who pass through sometimes don’t know we’re positioned as such as we, as you describe, do this improvisatory dance with people in conversation. The show has been up since March and we’ve seen the trees go from bare, to blossom, to leafing, and now they can’t wait to get planted outside. Many people have passed through. Asad’s work balances organic, inorganic, and human all in the space. Having a person in the room is as important as the trees and the caregiver’s placed object. I’m learning that conversation is often this invisible thread that links things together in the present.
twi-ny: Your work is very scientific; were you interested in science when you were a kid?
jo: I would not say I grew up with a scientific bent. I had a fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Dowd, who explained the digestive system with panache (“...and out the other end” — we were all snickering). I’ve come to science through the body, and through a curiosity about what makes us alive. There is a beautiful ecosystem within us and a giant cosmos outside of us. Did you ever see that film by Charles and Ray Eames — Powers of Ten — it’s all about zooming out and zooming in. That, to me, is what science is about. Things can be very specific and very vast.
twi-ny: Yes, Powers of Ten is quite eye-opening. How did you find/choose your science collaborators — Dr. Wei Ji Ma, Cecilia Fontanesi, and Ed Lein — and what did each one bring to The Brain Piece?
Word of mouth.
Cecilia is a dancer and a neuroscientist. She met one of my dancers, Mary Madsen, at a party. I loved talking with her from the very beginning. The thing she said, “The brain is everywhere in the body,” totally clicked with my premise of dancers illuminating brain life.
Wendy Suzuki, who helped illuminate the brain-body connection for me, introduced Wei Ji to me. Wei Ji has been a great collaborator. He comes to rehearsals to “fact check” and advise. He’s in Dance of the Neurons. I audited his class at NYU on illusion. We did a combo lecture / performance in Amsterdam.
Another neuroscientist introduced Ed Lein to me: Gary Marcus. My company manager at the time, Clare Cook, was giving him private Pilates lessons. Gary and I had several conversations, which culminated in him saying, “You know, you should meet Ed from the Allen Institute for Brain Science. He specializes in the biology of neurons.” Ed and I had a back and forth on a kind of Skype sketchpad, and he drew little pictures of how neurons are formed that eventually became the literal storyboard for Dance of the Neurons. I embellished, of course, and played with all the ways neurons “dance” and form synaptic connection. I’m most grateful to these scientists, who are also artists.
twi-ny: Without giving too much away, how will the physical space of New York Live Arts come into play? Only the second half will take place in the theater on a proscenium stage, correct?
jo: It’s my hope that there really is no separation between the sections, that the more experience-based portions of the work continue to inform the world of the brain in the theater. There are nine films in part two. When you go to movies, you don’t question that the actors are not that big. I think the problem with live theater is that we’re in a long shot for too long. I’m creating an atmosphere of a giant brain with moving parts. I think this is the nature of brain plasticity: zoom in for close-ups, see what the alignment of neurons are doing at this time, how we’re constantly in a perceptual loop.
twi-ny: 4Chambers involved a significant amount of interaction, at one point bringing the audience into physical contact with the dancers. Will there be anything similar in The Brain Piece?
jo: You’ll see.
twi-ny: Good answer. I only recently learned that the doctor who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein actually removed his brain and brought it home to study. What is the most unusual thing you learned about the brain while making this piece?
jo: That the brain is a noisy place and we’re constantly trying to figure things out and make sense of the world. And that our bodies are the vehicles for us to sensorially enter the world. Ask a neuroscientist to define “mind” and they have no clear thing to pin down. There were philosophers, then psychiatrists, and now great discoveries in seeing the pictures in the brain, seeing what makes things go off, decay, or become more plastic, make connections: That’s the dance of neurons. But the mind — it’s like vapor. We breathe in present and past. It’s in constant motion. And dancers are the perfect vehicles to convey this movement.
twi-ny: How have the two works brought the heart and the mind together for you?
jo: The heart leads to the mind. When working on 4Chambers, I interviewed Wendy, who talked about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and how all the way down from our brains our hearts operate. We feel our hearts, but it’s triggered by the mind. You know how what your brain is doing by what your heart is doing, and vice versa. “I can put my hand on your heart and feel your heartbeat, but if I put my hand on your skull, I can’t feel your thoughts.”
twi-ny: Regarding Dance of the Neurons, your choreography has always been very cinematic, and The Brain Piece includes that short film, which has been garnering prizes at festivals. How do you see the two disciplines merging in your work?
jo: Thank you. Someone at a festival said I was a filmic choreographer. I like that. I’m pretty visual. Like a filmmaker, I’m in the business of arranging time and space and hidden narrative. I use a lot of improvisation around ideas and look for dancers who can take the ball and run with it. I like to think that if I give the performers imaginative tasks, the content will form, and it’s my job as a director and choreographer to prepare for a rehearsal with a loose storyboard of possibilities, then go deeply inside the physical investigation for the interaction with audience members, the films, and the onstage content. Devising content is a matter of honing in on what feels right.
I worked with a wonderful dramaturg this time around: Jessica Applebaum. The piece has had many renderings. She helped me not be afraid of the complexity of the subject matter and to go forward making. Details and big picture always in mind. Jessica has also left me a lot of space these last months to figure it out on my own. Today our neuroscientist, Wei Ji, was there to see me finish the finale in our last moments of our last rehearsal!
I love it now. I’m even surprised by it.
twi-ny: I’m very much looking forward to being surprised by it as well. This might be an obvious closing question, but now with the heart and the brain covered, do you anticipate continuing to explore the mind-body connection with different organs as the focus?
jo: The sex organs will probably be combined with the guts. Like when you feel something in your gut. Intuition. Power.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery
131 East Tenth St. between Second & Third Aves.
June 23 - July 1, free (advance RSVP recommended), 6:00 - 10:00 pm
Photographer David Michalek and choreographer Yvonne Rainer have teamed up on SlowDancing/TrioA, a free multimedia installation on view nightly at Danspace Project from June 23 through July 1 from 6:00 to 10:00. Ten years ago, Michalek first showed Slow Dancing, hyper-slow-motion videos of dancers and choreographers filmed for five seconds and stretched into ten-minute portraits. “I love dance. I love watching it. I love what dancers do, who they are, and what they stand for,” Michalek, who is married to Wendy Whelan, explains on his website about the series. Michalek has now turned his attention to Rainer’s iconic 1966 Trio A, which was part of the larger work The Mind Is a Muscle. “The dance has been understood as inaugurating a new field of practice that embraced laconic movements and ordinary bodies, and helped usher in postmodern, task-based dance,” Berkeley associate professor of art history Julia Bryan-Wilson wrote in October magazine in 2012. “In addition, Trio A has refigured what it means to talk about the medium — or mediums — of contemporary art.” For their collaboration, Michalek filmed forty-six dancers performing the approximately five-minute piece, with each participant getting seven seconds onscreen. The cast includes Siobhan Burke, Emily Coates, Robbie Cook, Jodi Melnick, Elliot Mercer, Richard Move, Wendy Perron, Stephen Petronio, Francisca Quintanilla, Macy Sullivan, David Thomson, Isabelle Vergara, Timothy Ward, Rainer, Whelan, and Raindears company member Pat Catterson, who worked with Rainer on the project and performed the piece at MoMA in 2009. There will be a trio of 6:30 conversations during the week-long run, with choreographer Hilary Easton on June 24, Lydia Bell on June 27, and Judy Hussie-Taylor on June 29, who all contributed to a print program guide as well. “Trio A is a dance that both does and does not want to perform, both does and does not want to be filmed,” Coates writes in the guide. “So it alters the expectations of the medium. Yvonne ‘Trio A-ifies’ David’s screens from within, forcing viewers, yet again, to reconsider their own desires in relation to an image. . . . Trio A questions the nature of performance itself.” Admission is free but advance RSVP is recommended here.